The big story: SA looks tentatively to life beyond covid

On Saturday it will be exactly two years since South Africa entered a super-strict 21-day lockdown. Masks became the hottest new sartorial item and toilet paper became SA’s rarest commodity. When Covid collided with an already over-stretched healthcare system, grief, panic and fear became our constant companions. Many of us longed for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comforting “family meetings” – accurate information was as precious as loo roll.

Boy, how things have changed. When Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Tuesday to announce a raft of new freedoms, many of his “fellow South Africans” complained that his speech could have been an email. Here’s how we think it should have read:

“Dumelang, sanibona, molweni, howzit okes. Covid sucks. Science rules. You can stop wearing a mask outdoors, but keep it on when you’re in an office, classroom or any other busy public space. It’s cool to have more people in one place (50% capacity), whether you’re jolling indoors or outdoors, but ask your guests for proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. The same goes for folks entering the country. Oh and listen, we’re moving away from those controversial and extended “national state of disaster”. Joe (Phaala, the Health Minister) is working on some draft regulations so we don’t lose a grip on this Covid management thing. Kind regards.”

Meanwhile, the oft-extended state of disaster continues to court controversy. Scientists, legal experts and civil rights groups have many questions. In an op-ed for Daily Maverick, a group of scientists criticised the draft regulations, calling them incoherent, illogical and out of tune with reality. For example, the draft proposes a limit on funeral gatherings, but large gatherings are allowed at stadiums and concerts. The scientists are also calling for continued urgency around vaccinations. The draft regulations are open for public comment until 15 April – check them out here. (Link in PDF for WhatsApp readers). 

Amid these latest shifts and spats, it’s easy to forget what an arduous journey we’ve undertaken in the past two years. Just under 100 000 people have died in South Africa. So many others have fought for their lives while others are still navigating the horrors of long Covid. Collins Khosa’s family is yet to see justice after he was murdered, allegedly by soldiers who took lockdown enforcement brutally too far. Money meant to keep health workers and ordinary people safe instead lined influential pockets. As we move forward – and move forward we must – it’s crucial to hold space for others’ grief, loss and anger and to cut ourselves some slack as we try, tentatively, to claw back some version of normal. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 24 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.